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The Brain Calls the Shots. The importance of being physically safe as well as feeling safe was highlighted last time. Remember, not feeling safe has the same effect on our brains as not being physically safe. Both trigger the fear center of our brains or our fight, flight, or freeze response. When our brains sense a real or perceived threat, it quickly decides whether fighting, running, or freezing will keep us safe. The fight, flight, or freeze response is like a reflex. That is, our brains choose which response will keep us safe and the best way to survive.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are in the freeze response. In the freeze response, people might:
- Dissociate or feel like they are watching themselves from outside of their own body. Have you ever been driving somewhere familiar, like on your way home or on your way to work, and, suddenly, you can’t remember how you got as far as you are, you don’t remember a part of the trip? That experience is kind of like dissociation-just going through the motions but not feeling connected to them.
- Our bodies might shut down or try to make us disappear, hoping that the danger goes away and also minimizes any pain we are feeling.
- Time seems to slow down kind of like we are in slow motion.
- Other things people might experience in the freeze mode:
- Feeling stuck in some part of the body.
- Feeling empty, cold, or numb; a sense of stiffness or inability to move.
- Holding one’s breath or having rapid/shallow breath.
- Feel alone even when not physically alone.
- Feel disconnected from feelings, thoughts, or bodies.
- Feel in a fog.
- Feel as though their eyesight is more focused or sharper.
- Have dry mouth.
- Feel a sense of dread or hopelessness/helplessness.
- Feel confused or forgetful.
- Be distracted.
- Constantly scanning the environments or are wide eyed.
These are all things our brains are doing to keep us safe
It is important to recognize that the individuals might be in the freeze response while they are trying to make sense of all the changes in their lives. Each person will have their own fear response including fight or flight.
Below are some additional resources to helping individuals move away from the fight, flight, or freeze response and into feeling safe, connected, and in control during the pandemic.
- Talking About It. To address some of the changes that have happened since the last post, share the following series of social stories with individuals as appropriate.
- “Why is Everyone Wearing a Mask?” WhyisEveryoneWearingMask-1
- When individuals need to wear a mask: “I Might have to Wear a Mask.” or “Wearing a Mask.” One story focuses on wearing a mask if the individual is sick and the other is about wearing a mask even when they are not sick. IMightNeedtoWearMask-Sick-2 WearingAMask-3
If the individual you work with prefers videos, check out these video links:
Social Distancing (social story in last post): https://paautism.wistia.com/medias/fabtvup2ua
Isolation (social story in last post): https://paautism.wistia.com/medias/3nlgtzlmkt
Getting Tested for COVID-19: https://paautism.wistia.com/medias/a4q2wt7b21
2. Offer Daily Predictability. Beyond helping individuals develop new routines, what else helps offers a sense of predictability?
- Outlining Expectations. Inform individuals of what they can expect before, during, and after an activity. Outlining expectations is especially important for transitionary times or new activities/experiences.
- Creating Checklist. Utilize pictures or words to outline what is involved in completing a task or a routine.
- Designating Safe Places. Identify a safe place in their home outside of individuals’ bedrooms. Have known comfort items for individuals as well as sensory bucket filled with calming items such as fidgets, cotton balls with different scents, weighted blanket or lap pad.
3. Keep Them Moving. As the stay at home order continues, it gets harder to be creative about movement activities. How about a workout with WWE Superstar Becky Lynch, Dylan Landon/Special Olympics Personal Trainer, and Special Olympic Athletes? You can find that here: School of Strength https://www.specialolympics.org/school-of-strength
4. Staying Connected. Looking for some unique, cool ideas to help the individuals stay connected? Check out these ideas from California State Council on Developmental Disabilities: Activities-While-Sheltering-In-Place-7
5. Remaining in the Here and Now. How about 30 days of yoga with Adriene and Benji. Here is the link: https://youtu.be/KWBfQjuwp4E
Other activities that help calm our brains are walking or running, dancing, singing, breathing, movement like rocking chairs or swings and music.
Until next time, stay safe everyone!